Through August and September, England’s chapter of the world’s most comprehensive test of an emcee’s skill, the End of the Weak MC Challenge kicked off and stormed through the heats of it’s 2018 season. Rebranded for accuracy and to create distance from imperialist tones, EOW England (formerly EOW UK) has successfully built on an impressive 2017 season. 2x EOW England champ Gee Bag took a very respectable 3rdplace in front of 1000+ people at the sold out Meet Factory in Prague, repping hard for our localised Hip Hop scene against some of the world’s greatest freestylers, only finishing behind EOW Montréal’s Basics and EOW NYC’s new World Champion Osyris Antham. Founder DJ Snuff alongside former UK champ and organiser Mas Law have crafted a team of long time contributors Jazz T, DJ Steaz, Kissy K, photographer Nadia Oshitudo and myself filming for GlobalFaction and reporting for IAHH, ready to find the next EOW England champ to step up to the standard set by our previous World Title winners Stig of the Dump and Jack Flash.
HEAT #1 – Empire Bar, Hackney, London
The new season began in style on 22ndAugust at The Empire Bar, attached to East London’s legendary Hackney Empire. OG of our culture Jonzi D was in the house to see fyah performances from Mas Law and our family from EOW NYC Poison Pen and Mazzi from S.O.U.L Purpose, bringing authentic Hip Hop energy from the birthplace of the art form. We had a strong line-up for the opening challenge; Broken Penfrom the FRSHRZ camp, Atlas X (fka Crazy Haze) who has toured with Lowkey and Akala, poet and broadcaster on EachTeach radio Mansa Musa and wildcard EP who repped hard enough in the open mic to get drafted into the challenge.
It was a hard fought and close competition, with some lyricism of the highest order on display. The first 2 rounds – (written and acappella) were extremely close. Mansa Musa mixed up a braggadocio style with deep poetic insights, reciting a letter he’d written to death, while EP came with a combative, witty energy. When host/DJ Kissy K forgot what to call him, he took the mic and started his bar with “I’m the brudda with flames, even when the DJ don’t remember my name, severing lames, yeah I rep for the days, I’m wrecking the fakes, every time coming fresh with the phrase”. Atlas X came with his trademark mix of hardcore political/road inspired bars; the Iraqi born, NW London raised emcee came dropping lines like, “Straight from the land where the children aint never had shit, your face or name on the blacklist, you’ll break and they’ll spray your canvas” with on point delivery and dynamism. But it was Broken Pen who took an early lead with his acappella. Using rapid-fire alliteration, he rapped through the alphabet, and even though it’s been done a lot (by Blackalicious, Papoose, Lowkey to name a few) the brother killed it. His take was fresh and had a true direction; he was really saying something with each section and it was far from an empty gimmick, just check the full footage below:
As the heat continued Mansa Musa and EP did well, but Broken Pen and Atlas X began to pull away from the pack. In round 3, the grab bag round, Broken Pen’s best line started with “I want a woman that’s lady like, take her to my place and I, might buss on her face” he then pulled some out and said, “then I’ll use the baby wipes”. Fire!! Atlas had some killer lines too; he pulled out Issue 5 of IAHH (go cop that!) and spat “you know how I rock, I been out here cos I Am Hip Hop, I’m just rolling through, you know that we back with the team, and if I shoot at you I’ll just make sure it’s a whole magazine”. Bodied!
Through the last 2 rounds – DJ vs MC and cypher – Broken Pen managed to keep his consistency up, spitting fire in Portuguese and English, going double time and matching the tempos he was thrown by DJ Snuff. While EP and Mansa Musa spat genuine freestyles, Broken Pen leaned a bit on writtens for the cypher, but so did his main competition Atlas, meaning Broken Pen held it up throughout the challenge to take the heat and capture his spot in the England final.
HEAT #2 – The Plough, Bristol
As part of EOW England’s expansion, a conscious effort has been made this year to not only invite challengers from around the country, but also to put on challenges in more cities. The first one this year was in the home of Boomtown and Trip Hop, the west countries cultural hub of Bristol. The Plough is a spot with a strong ‘alternative’ vibe, regularly housing Hip Hop, Dub, Jungle and Punk nights, with the interior paying homage to the Soundsystem culture it is part of. Heading down the very next night, August 23rd, heat #2 featured another performance EOW NYC’s Mazzi, Mas Law and myself, as well as a guest performance from Bristol’s own Krazy from Wordlife. Local to global legend Eva Lazarus even passed through to bless the stage with her vocal talents.
The vibes were HIGH in the settings for another quality challenge made up of all home-grown Bristol emcees; the well travelled vet Mista E, the self-assured Entra Pfrom Verbal Highz and the versatile wavy lyricist Wish. We had 1 entrant pull out at the last minute, but also had a whole host of emcees turning up looking to enter. After running a 16 bar wildcard challenge,RPK grabbed his spot in the challenge with his wild out-there, mind-bending punchlines.
The levels for this heat were set right from the start. The first 3 rounds were too too close to call with Mista E bringing relentless flows with heartfelt rhymes about his life and things he’s been through, Wish came with similar content, living up to his alias wavy Wish, taking the crowd on a lyrical journey, RPK threw out lines that make you have to stop, screw your face and think ‘what???’ in the best way and Entra‑P came through cocky as fuck ready to battle the world, saying “they’ve saved the best ‘til last”, when he was last in round 1, then “they’ve saved the best ‘til second” in the next round! 4 different styles, all with fire, that made it hard to choose between them.
Mista E stepped up the heat in the DJ vs MC round, forcing forward for the win. He killed the round, bringing insane amounts of energy, as DJ Steaz through him a mix of dark Boom Bap, Grime and Jungle. He steamrolled the beats, briefly stopping to check the tempo before going in again. If he’d done enough to take the lead, Wish then did enough to take it back. With a real effortless style, he commanded the mic and stage with the presence of an emcee clearly experienced hosting dances, as he moved through classic Ragga, Garage and DnB flows as he was given those styles, barely stopping to catch the beat and getting the crowd fully gassed off his control of the vibe. It was a dope example of how to do this round and how to flow over home-grown underground styles.
In the cypher round, all the emcees held it up, mixing in writtens with freestyles, cleanly sticking to the 4 bar requirement. Wish again stood out, managing to get some real killer lines into his bars “Imagine being born into an ocean so deep you drown, have to keep your head above the water that’s before your feet touch the ground, see where I’m from your feet touch you drown, many clowns treading water just to make a lickle pound”. Shelled it! With that level of lyricism, Wish fought off real close competition to win the Bristol heat and advance to the England final.
HEAT #3 – Grow Hackney London
Heat #3 was a true representation of EOW’s global nature. Dope emcee, community organiser, crazy tattoo artist and founder of EOW Brazil Folizz has recently moved to London. Doing what he does, the brother has been locating and unifying all the Brazilian Hip Hop heads in London, and organised an event we’re calling ‘EOW Global Connection’, linking the EOW community to artists of other countries, languages and cultures under the outernational language of Hip Hop. Performing on the night was a mix of Brazilian born and English based Hip Hop talent, with performances from myself, Folizz, Marca and Bocao1313 from Brazil, our won MC Solomon and our reigning EOW England champ Gee Bag, all held down by Steaz, Snuff and Brazilian DJ Tigas on the decks. The vibes were beautiful inside with a range of styles from Boom Bap to Jungle to Trap and, for the first time that I’ve seen, Brazilian Grime. We even got blessed by another lioness lyricist; our sistah Amy True duppy’d the open mic with her incredible signature voice and bars.
The scene was set for an incredible challenge, and we had exactly that. This heat contained 3 of last years finalists; RU1 Fam’s Watusi87, fresh off the release of the RU1 ‘Otito’ album making the iTunes chart (go cop that!), People’s Army’s Ginger General and last years Battle Scars champ Emerge MC and the keyboard wizard and all round creative don Huski88. Now, all of these emcees had proven before that the have the pedigree to win this competition, and the challenge was as close as you can imagine.
The first 2 rounds showed the differences in styles. Watusi is one of those emcees you can never mistake for another, his voice is fully unique and his flow is effortless, he uses these tools to spread love and oneness while also letting you know he’s a G. Emerge has spent the last few years fully coming into his own and perfecting his technique, what I call Geezer Rap. He is what he is and now owns it, talking as much about pints and fighting as he does about self-improvement and battling his demons. Huski is a true creative, and finds as many ways as he can to express himself in original ways, usually in wild barrages of crazy punchlines. He used the written round to talk about his addiction to Hip Hop, and came out fully acting like a fiend. In the acappella round he dropped the line “Everyone in my team’s got them filthy bars, and you man are Jonathan Ross you just can’t deal with R’s, hearing Huski88 didn’t kill a bar’s like hearing Kimbo Slice got killed by Ian Beale, my darg”. Madness!
The levels kept sky high through the grab bag round, each man showing that they’re freestyle pros, pulling incredible lines out the air as they pulled each item out the bag. Huski’s best line was a hilarious description of how he ends a night ‘when your girl can’t make it…after a gig when I’m wasted’ after pulling out some cocoa butter – I’ll leave that to your imagination. Watusi killed it when pulling out a can of coke and went in about the corporation taking over the world – insight on top of intelligent wordplay. But Emerge had the best moment of the round, after pulling out a bit of paper, he said “It says Emerge MC is the winner, big dick, sexy figure, better than all the competition, oi judges you wanna listen, it says I’m gonna win the world final, up in France I’m gonna beat all my rivals, it says right now I’m 12 days sober but if I win it’ll be a larger and make sure it’s cold bruh” all fully off the top of the head. It as a ridiculous moment. Going into the last 2 rounds it was basically a 3‑way tie.
It was the DJ vs MC round where I think the winner stepped up. Emerge and Watusi both brought it, no mistakes and stutters but Huski fully went in. Complete freestyle, didn’t flinch for a second and just seamlessly flowed over the beats, still flinging in punchlines. What made it more impressive is that this round let him down in the final last year, so to step the level up that much in a year was impressive.
The cypher round was as expected from these dons. All freestyle and building off the last man, exactly how this round should be done. It kept the scores really close, but it was Huski88 who did just enough in the judges eyes to take his hard earned place in the final. This was one of the best EOW heats I’ve ever seen, and really showed the quality and calibre of emcee that our culture and scene can produce.
HEAT #4 – Congregate Brixton, London
We stay in LDN but move south of the river for heat #4, representing alongside fellow Hip Hop livers AndWhat? as part of Congregate Brixton, a day time community festival in Windrush Square on a beautiful sunny Saturday. There was music all day, with DJ Snuff representing on the decks, the AndWhat? emcees performing with some dope live musicians, including a Kora player and some dope beatboxing. People’s Army General and EOW fam Logic came through and blessed the crowd with his knowledge and energy, before monster horns-man Xvngo from the band Nihilism came through and played his sax over instrumentals provided by Snuff. It was a dope end of summer vibe in Brixton.
2 of the AndWhat? emcees, Isaac B and Digits stepped up to enter the EOW challenge. They were up against Alex Michael Taylor, an emcee and poet from the Midlands, Bristol based emcee Feline who was supposed to enter the heat down there but didn’t make it, and another one of our finalists from 2017, lyrical beast Menace Mendoza from Dark Side of the Moon.
The competition started of on a dope level, with all the emcees going in, expressing their different styles. Isaac B came with a heartfelt, melancholy track about the struggle and rising through it, Digits came with a similarly soulful vibe with a more hopeful message, while Feline jumped right on to a high energy wave, flowing double time over a dope Dub influenced riddim. Menace Mendoza showed exactly why he nearly won last years England final with his raw, rugged, lyrical style, mixing frees and writtens, while Alex Michael Taylor went deep, spitting a track about losing friends, overcoming the hurt and learning from it.
The competition got of to a real close start and stayed that way through the rounds. Menace Mendoza took his content deeper with some more self-reflective bars, maintaining his relentless hard-hitting style, but it was Feline who came with the best verse of the round, spraying about building bridges and oneness in a time that’s all too concerned with division.
As we moved into the Grab Bag round, Isaac B, Feline and Menace started to pull ahead. Isaac B did well, barely stopping as he plucked out the items, keeping his flow consistent. Feline, brought some killer lines; he pulled out a lighter and dropped “Large it up you know I’m coming up off the dome, I don’t need the lighter ‘cause I brought the fire on the microphone”! Menace took the round though, picking out his 4 items from the bag, adding an item by rapping about the pomegranate Snuff was keeping by his decks, pulling out a slip mat and handing it to Snuff as a spare and, when pulling out Halo for the Xbox 360, spraying “This game’s kinda old, I couldn’t even sell it in CEX for £3 pound you know”!! The crowd loved that!
It stayed close going into the DJ vs MC round, with all the emcees sounding comfortable on the different styles Snuff was dropping. That’s what made Feline stand out, he didn’t just cope with the round, he fully embraced it, flowing with mad energy over Grime, Jungle, Afrobeats, and Reggae. He matched the vibes, only took half a bar before catching beats, went double time when needed and overall just went in. Going into the cypher it looked like Feline and Menace had pulled away, and as the cypher round was dope but with nothing major happening, it stayed a tight 2 horse race.
Tight doesn’t really cut it. After deliberations from the judges, Isaac B took 3rdplace, while Menace took second just 2 points behind the heat #4 winner, Feline. The journey down to Brixton from Bristol was worth it, and he’d be doing it again on September 29thfor the EOW England final.
HEAT #5 – Dead Wax Social, Brighton
The last heat of the season was down on the south coast in Boozetown itself aka Brighton. The EOW England team rolled deep down to Dead Wax Social in the Lanes, right in the artsy centre. The spot exists on the site of a former legendary Brighton record store, and the whole theme is vinyl. There’s a big collection of wax, and punters can dig and pick stuff to play when there isn’t live music on. DJs Snuff and Steaz would be picking their own riddims to move the crowd, alongside performances from myself, Mas Law, the big, bashy, backyard bully, EOW fam Sus Bully, as well as Brighton’s own Barcode, a dope duo made up of emcees Mrisi and Hatter.
The competition had 3 home-grown Brighton lyricists, Slip Jam:B organiser Tom Hines, horrorcore spitting Paul Clements aka Larry Diamond aka UltraMegatron and slam poet Gramski, who’d performed one of the best acappella rounds I’ve ever seen last year. Added to the line-up at the last minute, having been in Brighton to watch, was Hughdem, who earlier in the year had won the first ever ‘Break-A-Bar’ competition – EOW’s collab with dance outfit Floor Rippers. It was another dope line-up of emcees with different styles, and Boozetown lived up to it’s name, with both Paul Clements and Tom Hines being pretty far gone, having both been at weddings all day! Tom Hines came with his trademark hype energy, freestyling the first round, not giving a fuck, while Paul Clements well programmed flows and self-depreciating style got responses from the crowd. Hugh Dem came with his chilled yet passionate flow and intelligent lyricism over the classic Pharoahe Monch track ‘Behind Closed Doors’. Gramski came with his out-there creativity, performing a David Attenborough inspired lyrical documentary about Brighton, complete with stories of drugs and drama.
The same styles continued into the next round, with Tom Hines freestyling his whole accapella, Hugh Dem reminiscing about his childhood, his growth as an artist and his issues with the state of Hip Hop while Paul Clements paid homage to Godzilla spitting from his perspective. This round is Gramski’s bead and butter, it’s what he does, and he found another way to push the limits. He put lyrics to the main song from ‘The Marriage of Figaro” opera (you know it even if you don’t know you do) and performed it with the melody, rhythm and everything. It’s hard to describe – just watch the video:
Based on creativity alone, Gramski was out in front. The grab bag round was pretty even, but Hugh Dem, who’d been consistently good so far kept his level high. When he pulled a record out he said “You know my decision is final, gonna make sure your head spins like a vinyl, every track you know that I’m better, over beats you know that I set records”. He did the same through the DJ vs MC round, probably winning those 2 rounds with Gramski coming second, so going in and out of the cypher round it was clearly out of those 2.
After the judges added their scores it was closer than we thought; the judges couldn’t decide between them and we had to go to a tiebreak. Each emcee had to spit a 16 and crowd response would decide who took the win. Even this was tight! Hughdem came with his dope, scripted bars, while Gramski took the risky strategy of freestyling – and the first round was another draw! After the second round with the same formula, the crowd showed more love to Gramski and the poet had won the heat.
We’d found our last entrant for the EOW England MC Challenge Final at Hootananny Brixton on September 29th. Broken Pen, Wish, Huski88, Feline and Gramski will compete against 2x England champ Gee Bag to try and take his title and win the opportunity to rep in the EOW World Championship in Paris on October 27th against the best freestylers from across Africa, Asia, Europe and America. There’s also gonna be performances from Lady Sanity and Shunaji, so make sure you reach, it’s gonna be WILD!